By Steve Roney
If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then the Arizona Diamondbacks just paid the Washington Nationals a compliment.
The way they went about it, though, won’t get them any brownie points from their own fans.
In a trade that saw three teams swap a total of nine players, the D-backs traded young, talented pitching – headlined by 2011 No. 3 overall draft pick Trevor Bauer -- in an effort to shore up their major league lineup.
Much like the Nationals’ acquisition of centerfielder Denard Span for pitching prospect Alex Meyer, Arizona dealt from a position of strength. The Diamondbacks plucked an arm from a veritable stable of young starters loaded with potential to plug a longtime major league hole – in this case, at shortstop.
In Washington’s scenario, they sent a high-upside prospect years removed from contributing at the major league level to Minnesota, and received an established big leaguer who mans a premium position.
The problem for Arizona? The player coming back to Phoenix is just as much a question mark as the one they gave up, if not more so.
For giving up Bauer, Arizona recieved Didi Gregorius. Gregorius -- an all-glove, light hitting shortstop -- got a 20-at bat cup of coffee with Cincinnati after hitting .265 between AA and AAA last season at age 22.
Reports are that he may need a full season in AAA before he’s ready to hold down an everyday major league job – not exactly the return you’d expect from a young pitcher with ace potential.
Bauer, meanwhile, looked shaky in a four-start cameo with the big club in 2012; however, a 21-year old who took just one full professional season to reach the majors could be forgiven a 6.06 ERA in just 16 innings. His ceiling is still the front of the rotation.
Did the Nationals give up a similarly talented youngster? Absolutely.
Alex Meyer, drafted 20 picks after Bauer in 2011, is a gigantic 6’9” righty with almost limitless power potential – and last year he harnessed his previously shaky control to the tune of just below 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Potential is nice, but the Nationals know what they’re getting in Span: A speedster at the top of the batting order who covers a lot of ground in the outfield and gets on base at a career .357 clip.
The second the trade for Span went through, Washington had a better team, and any possible regrets about giving up Meyer are years down the road.
In all likelihood, Arizona won’t have to wait nearly as long to find out whether they should have kept their pitching deck stacked.